[By Mike Foley: Originally published online in the BYU-Hawaii Newsroom, April 2, 2009]
In his third and final BYU-Hawaii Joseph Smith Lecture Series presentation on April 1 in the Aloha Center, S. Michael Wilcox [pictured at right; photo by Mike Foley], a visiting instructor from the Salt Lake Institute of Religion at the University of Utah, taught that the modern equivalent of an anti-Christ is anyone who would trouble or shake a person’s faith. In addition, he taught how the Book of Mormon provides lessons on resisting such attempts, and clarified a number of metaphors relating to the faith and testimony required to do so.
Wilcox — who is also an author and frequent BYU Education Week speaker — pointed out that when Mormon compiled the Book of Mormon, “he had in mind challenges that you and I in our world were going to face,” and that these included four incidents of antichrists.
“If I asked a group of people, have you ever met an antichrist, I’m going to get very few hands,” Wilcox continued, noting that the phrase has been “demonized” to the point of not having much meaning anymore. Instead, he prefers the term “faith-shakers” — “anybody who shakes or troubles our faith… [or] causes some doubt or concern.”
“It’s not that we ask questions, doubts or challenges to our faith — they’re going to come and they’re going to go. It’s what we do with those things. Some people just have the gift of faith,” he said, adding that “I might have a believing heart but a questioning mind, and often my mind and my heart are in conflict, and I can’t really ignore either one of them.”
“The Book of Mormon helps us deal with the faith-shakers, whether it’s an individual, some piece of anti-Mormon literature you get hold of, something you read, some scientific theory, some experience in your life. We all have those moments where we may be troubled a little bit.”
For example, Jacob in his Chapter 7 of the Book of Mormon, writes that his faith “could not be shaken” despite attempts by the antichrist Sherem. Other Book of Mormon antichrist examples include Nehor, who was confronted by Alma, as well as Korihor and the doctrine of the Zoramites, which were countered by Alma the Younger.
“All four of them suggest something against a belief in Christ,” Wilcox continued. “Sherem said something else will save you: In his case, the Law of Moses. He’s a religious individual. In Nehor’s case, his message is everybody will be saved. In Korihor’s case it’s you don’t need to be saved. Saved from what? There is no sin… And Zoram says, we are saved…you are not. Every one of them has a different attitude toward what salvation is, and you’ll find every one of those groups in the world today.”
To counter these, Wilcox said we need a stable “pyramid of faith. You can shake it, but it won’t fall… a few stones will roll off it, but the basic structure still stands.” He then drew a pyramid shape on the whiteboard, dividing it into three sections:
- Testimony on top: “This is my faith. This is what I believe. This is the part that says I know.”
- Evidence in the middle: For example, Alma asked Korihor, What evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it is your word only [Alma 30:40]. “Sometimes you just turn the tables… It’s very comforting to know there is no evidence there is no God…that Jesus is not the Christ…that Joseph Smith did not see the Father and the Son.”
- Experience is the bottom layer, or solid foundation, of the pyramid, “that provides the evidence of whether I believe or not”; also authority — “I haven’t had the experience, but I trust the authority of somebody else”; and reason.
Citing Paul’s well-known definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 as “substance,” Wilcox said the same word can “also be translated in the Greek as assurance… I think sometimes we feel in the Church that faith is based on emotion, that it’s based on feeling. That’s part of it; but both Paul and Alma affirm that faith is based on substance, on evidence.”
“If [the top part of the pyramid] says, I know, then [the bottom two layers] say, and I know why I know. If we’re going to face some of the faith-shakers, it isn’t sufficient to know. We need to know why we know.”
In “one of the finest arguments for the existence of God I know” [Alma 30:44], Wilcox said, “Alma says to Korihor, I know, and I know why I know,” because of:
- …the testimony of all these thy brethren. “You can’t explain them all away,” he said. “It’s the experience of all these people.”
- …all the holy prophets, or authority. “I’ve not seen God, but I trust the authority of those who say they have, and there is a remarkable consistency in all of their messages.”
- …yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it. “Reason tells me there’s something behind the creation.”
In his sermon to the Zoramites in Chapter 31-32, Wilcox pointed out that Alma outlines the way we can get evidence is to “key off the word ‘experiment.’ It’s as if Alma almost knew the modern world and the scientific method we have adapted now as the main way of obtaining truth. For example, “Alma was affirming the hypothesis that Jesus is the Messiah.”
He said the “givens — something we all assume” in Alma’s “scientific inquiry,” include:
- “Your beginning point is a state of humility.”
- “God wants me to know truth.” [32:22].
- “He will teach you truth” [v. 23].
- “And so critical for Latter-day Saints, because we have this idea in our minds that it’s all-or-nothing — you know or you don’t know,” Wilcox continued: [v. 26]…faith is not a perfect knowledge. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
“Part of the reason that we lose so many members of the Church, both those born in and those who are converted, is they don’t continue to experiment. They don’t broaden the base of the pyramid.”
With those “givens,” Wilcox pointed out Alma’s “experiment,” in which he compares faith to a growing seed, calls for us to “desire to believe. Start on the positive side.” He also said Alma showed that “you will respond to truth and goodness in four ways” — paying particular attention to the word “begin”:
- “You can’t know at first unto perfection, but you can begin to know” with a physical-spiritual response, or a “swelling” as Alma said, a “movement metaphor.” Wilcox said other metaphors for this feeling include the “heat” of “a burning in your bosom”; or as “Joseph Smith said, ‘the truth makes my bones quake'”; and “the Doctrine and Covenants sometimes says you’ll feel peace, joy, love — “maybe you can relate to that,” he added, “if you’re not sure you’ve felt the other sensations.”
- “The good seed…will enlarge your soul. I think he’s saying you’ll have a behavioral response to truth and goodness… It ought to make us better people… If the gospel of Jesus Christ is good and true, we should anticipate that the Mormon people would be some of the finest people on the face of the earth; and that is exactly what you find.”
- “Your mind begins to expand…or in other words, you’re going to have a mental or an intellectual response. Questions should have answers. Things should make sense. The range of my interest should begin to enlarge.”
- “When something is ‘delicious,’ you want more,” Wilcox said.
“Sometimes, depending on our character, our background, who we are, our approach to life and past experiences, we may be stronger in one of those areas than others; and we need to be careful of assessing one another or ourselves as strong or weak based on those four things.
Wilcox also reminded the audience that Alma continued his sermon by saying we must nourish the tree that grows from the seed so we can “feast” upon the fruit. Or as the poet Robert Frost wrote in the last stanza of his poem, Into My Own, in which he said if someone were to overtake him years later, deep into the forest of his life: They would not find me changed from him they knew — Only more sure of all I thought was true.”